We're Not Here to Put in Time
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We’re Not Here to Put in Time
Ramblings on a Scottish-Canadian Work Ethic
With William David "Bill" McCowan (Dec. 21, 1923 - Dec. 28, 2018)


In “We’re Not Here to Put in Time” there flourishes the same commendable Boswellian impulse to record the achievement of the work that has been -- to commemorate it, to preserve it, and to perpetuate the deep and enduring human values of discipline, dedication, creativity, and the affection that fueled it.
         Gordon Turnbull, General Editor, The Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell


We’re Not Here to put in Time gives us the authentic voice of real people -- how they lived, what they did, how they felt, their sorrows and joys and hopes and fears.

Peter Aitchison, Director of Communications at the University of Glasgow


We’re Not Here to Put in Time shines a light on some oft-forgotten underpinnings of what has made Toronto a civil society, namely the ceaseless labour of hard-working people who created what many might take for granted.
         Chris Chandler, Executive Officer, Toronto Teachers’ Bargaining Unit, OSSTF


Mr. McCowan’s “twelve laws of learning” clearly originate from what this book entails and we used all 12 in the Thinking like Murdoch project and the presentation we gave at the PEO Education Conference. Altogether these 12 laws of learning, in my opinion, should be used by all teachers.
         Mymoon Bhuiyan, former SATEC student


As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that Work Ethic = Hard Work + Diligence + Commitment.  But on second thought, Work Ethic might just = Mr. McCowan.
         Neveathan Jeyachandran (Grade 9, SATEC, 2018)


We’re Not Here to Put in Time is about character....  If we choose and follow the best role models, we will improve ourselves and, generation by generation, our society as a whole.  I think that’s a lesson we can learn from the history of the Scots of Scarborough.   
George Comrie, P.Eng., CMC, FEC, Past President, Professional Engineers Ontario


The discussion around the innovative Ayr Academy highlights the emphasis Scots of the time placed upon education and the impressive list of accomplishments and positions, professional and otherwise, held by various McCowans along the way, show just how worthwhile an education can turn out to be.
         Mary Free, ACIA, ASA


Published by the  
James McCowan Memorial Social History Initiative

http://mccowan.org/publicat.htm -- Please print and fill in the order form.  


Foreword by Gordon Turnbull, Yale University
“There is a waste of good, if it be not preserved” (James Boswell, 1776)

The Scottish lawyer, biographer, and diarist James Boswell (1740-1795), ninth laird of the Auchinleck estate in Ayrshire, holds a permanent place in the pantheon of world literary history, and a uniquely double one. He was known for the century and a half after his death as the biographer of the great English man of letters, Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), following publication of the Life of Johnson (1791), a path-breaking development in the field of modern biography. Then came the extraordinary twentieth-century recoveries of Boswell’s own personal papers, a rich archive that Boswell had preserved of letters, estate documents and legal records, and a series of candid and detailed private diaries, all long thought to have been lost or destroyed. Through the editing and publication of these papers by the Yale Boswell Editions, Boswell won a wave of posthumous recognition as a remarkable personal chronicler of his life and times. 

In what way might Bill McCowan’s family chronicle, with Bill’s voice working though Bruce’s narration, yield parallels? The first parallel to mention is a literally geographical one. Auchinleck, the Ayrshire estate to which James Boswell succeeded as laird in 1782 when James McCowan, the future Lesmahagow coalmaster and Scarborough, Ontario, immigrant was a boy of nine, stood right next door to the Dumfries estate, where generations of McCowan tenant farmers, miners, masons, and millers succeeded each other in toiling to coax the earth of Ayrshire into producing food and into yielding up its mineral riches. At Auchinleck the same work was happening. The Lugar Water formed a natural boundary, nourishing the farms, watering the livestock, and turning mill wheels on both estates as the work of “improvement” went ahead, side by side. The people of the estates knew each other. John Murdoch of Bellow Mill, inventor of the “Wooden Horse on Wheels” which is described in interesting detail in this book, married Joan Bruce, the sister of Boswell’s much valued estate overseer, James Bruce.

In his 94th year, Bill McCowan asks: “Will anyone really care about this oral history, about things that happened years ago on a ‘mixed’ farm, about the days before computers? What could possibly be so important about assumptions connecting one family to another, including how and why a Cowan family in Scotland changed their name from McCowan over two centuries ago? Will what I have to say about working and work ethic make any difference to anyone?” 

The answer is a resounding “yes”. As in James McCowan’s profession — coal-mining — the extraction of the past, of the life, the times, and the human realities of the people who came before us and therefore helped form us, is the work of complicated recovery and retrieval. In a voice that speaks in an appealing blend of humility and quiet but thoroughly earned pride, this detailed Scottish-Canadian family chronicle shows the human spirit, rooted in this instance in an ancestral Scottish Presbyterian ethic — astutely frugal at the same time as it is loving and generous — finding work not just a duty, or even a mere necessity, but a joy, and a moral triumph too. The Scottish-Canadians brought their Ayrshire values to the work of turning the sometimes uncooperative soils of southern Ontario into a place to sustain families, just as their ancestors did in lowland Scotland. 

But more: in this chronicle, to which many have contributed (as Bruce has drawn upon a treasure-trove of supplementary voices, documents, and pictorial records) the duty and joy of work has carried over into the duty and the joy of preserving and commemorating it. Boswell declared in a youthful diary in 1762: “I shall preserve many things that would otherwise be lost in oblivion.” Many years later, on 17 March 1776, struggling to keep up the work of his diary, he wrote: “I am fallen sadly behind in my journal. I should live no more than I can record, as one should not have more corn growing than one can get in. There is a waste of good, if it be not preserved”. With this farming metaphor applied to the labor of recording, we are not all that far from Bill (“Waste Not Want Not”) McCowan’s resonant axiom, “We’re not here to put in time. We’re here to get something accomplished!” Much was indeed accomplished by work, and the work of recording it must acknowledge the accomplishments. Otherwise, there is a waste of good. In We’re Not Here to Put in Time there flourishes the same commendable Boswellian impulse to record the achievement of the work that has been -- to commemorate it, to preserve it, and to perpetuate the deep and enduring human values of discipline, dedication, creativity, and the affection that fueled it. 

Gordon Turnbull, General Editor
The Yale Editions of the Private Papers of James Boswell
New Haven, CT, USA

Preface by Niva Kulendran, Principal, SATEC@W.A. Porter C.I.

When my colleague, Bruce McCowan, approached me to write on the reflections, stories and musings of his father on their family, work and philosophies, I was intrigued and curious and politely said yes. Little did I know that I would soon be drawn into the history of a family that has been able to chronicle its time in Scarborough in such a unique manner. Politeness was hardly necessary. To make the connection more personal, William McCowan was taught by the namesake of W.A. Porter Collegiate Institute, the school at which I am currently the Principal. 

This tome is a collection of stories and memories of William David “Bill” McCowan, transcribed and augmented by the observations of his children, Bruce in particular.
"We’re Not Here to Put in Time" draws the reader into a time when efforts were shown through dedication, and hard work was the currency of respect. We are taken to corners of family history which reflect how couples met, how work evolved and how children were raised and what is strikingly unique is the storyteller himself. Bill McCowan has a direct and unapologetic way of getting to the point, compelling the reader to see things his way. 

In so many ways, it is easy to see parallels between Bill McCowan’s principles and tenets we value as educators. We learn that time management and thinking skills are “work habits” that we promote in our classrooms to enhance effective and productive learning. These themes have clearly passed on to Bruce McCowan’s work with his students. He emphasizes problem solving and critical thinking and introduces notions on how innovators “think”. A student production reveals the importance and significance of channel
ling positive energy, something Bill McCowan would know a thing or two about.

"We’re Not Here to Put in Time" reminds us that family history is a collection of people, stories and their beliefs, and its legacy is how it’s remembered. 

Niva Kulendran
Principal, SATEC@W.A. Porter C.I.